Hector Ceballos-Lascurain, a Mexican environmentalist, international ecotourism consultant and architect, coined the term ecotourism in 1983. According to the International Ecotourism Society, ecotourism is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”. Ecotourism is about connecting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. This means that those who implement and participate in responsible tourism activities should follow the following ecotourism principles:
- Minimize impact.
- Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
- Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
- Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
- Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people.
- Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental and social climate.
Ecotourism Australia says: “Ecotourism is ecologically sustainable tourism with a primary focus on experiencing natural areas that foster environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation.”
Rainforest Alliance defines it as “a type of sustainable tourism that emphasises conserving nature and improving the lives of local people in rural and wilderness areas.”
IUCN (World Conservation Union) defines ecotourism as: Ecotourism is environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features — both past and present) that promotes conservation, has low negative visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations.
The main concept of ecotourism is a basis on a sound conservation practice or code of conduct that works with and supports the local ecology and the indigenous communities, and has a minimal impact on the environment. With the revenues earned, following set guidelines, there has to be a need to involve, employ and include the local communities, contribute to further sustainable development and help with conservation, by making them stakeholders, and by spreading awareness among the eco-tourist of the regions' biological and cultural diversity.
There is a need for increased social and ecological awareness among tourists — like volunteering to travel to regions where the local fauna, flora, ecology, culture are the primary attractions.
Ecotourism is being used as module in many countries, and is not only working successfully, but also providing a major economic activity and industry.
However, there is a big debate on the impact of ecotourism in sensitive regions and also on the programmes and service providers' way of functioning. Since there is no international set of regulations, the codes and guidelines followed by hospitality providers is erratic, and there is no way to check or regulate them. Ecotourism is being used by many hospitality providers as a marketing tool to promote themselves without implementing eco-guidelines, following responsible environmental practices or sustainability (often referred to as 'greenwashing') creating a constant debate on whether ecotourism really puts in as much as it takes out of a region.
That being said, though, in many cases the benefits of ecotourism have been tangible, and have helped in preserving and raising awareness of the local ecosystems and communities.
According to Canadian tourism consultant, Pam Wight, the guiding principles for ecotourism should include the following provisions:
- Tourist activities must not degrade the resource.
- Visitors should be offered educational first-hand experiences.
- All stakeholders (host community, government, non-governmental organizations, industry and tourists) must be involved.
- Tourism must respect the intrinsic value of natural resources.
- Tourism cannot overtax the resource supplies of the local region.
- Stakeholders must be encouraged to develop partnerships.
- Tourist revenue must provide conservation, scientific, or cultural benefits to the resource, local community, and industry as a whole.
- These benefits must be long-term.
According to the Quebec Declaration on Ecotourism, ecotourism embraces the principles of sustainable tourism ... and the following principles which distinguish it from the wider concept of sustainable tourism:
- Contributes actively to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage.
- Includes local and indigenous communities in its planning, development and operation, contributing to their well-being.
- Interprets the natural and cultural heritage of the destination to visitor.
- Lends itself better to independent travellers, as well as to organized tours for small-size groups.
 Prepare for Your Trip
Choose a destination, tour operator, accommodation (e.g., green lodges), mode of travel, etc., using the best options that have the least impact on the local environment, society and culture. Or, choose those have green certifications and awards. Educate yourself and read up on the area’s ecology, geography, culture, history, language, etc.
 Conserve Resources
During your travel, conserve and reduce your consumption of resources such as water, power, food, etc. Your motto should be ‘Pack it in, pack it out’. Respect local traditions and etiquette; wear appropriate clothing, and respect the social and cultural sensibilities of the region when interacting with local residents.
 Be Flexible
Travel with an open mind and adapt to the situation, instead of making the situation conform to you.
 Support Local Economies
Patronize the local and small-scale industries and communities that make products out of renewable resources. Use local guides, transport, and accommodation that directly benefit the local community.
However, do remember not to buy local fauna and flora parts, skins or products, or take souvenirs like stones, shells, etc., which might lead to the degradation and exploitation of the region, or may be illegal.
Contribute to local NGOs and societies that are working and benefiting the local environment.
For more details and guidelines on what to do when you travel and the hotels to use, see Green Travel.
The Centre for Outdoor Ethics has laid down the 'Leave no Trace' policy for outdoor travel.
 The Principles
- Plan ahead and prepare.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
- Dispose of waste properly.
- Leave what you find.
- Minimise campfire impacts.
- Respect wildlife.
- Be considerate towards other visitors.
 Ecotourism Offshoots
Sustainable tourism, responsible tourism, conscientious tourism are almost similar in practice and ethics to ecotourism, with marginal differences in definitions. New terms and forms of tourism that are the offshoots of ecotourism are combining and focusing on all aspects of sustainability. This is Geotourism, or, as National Geographic (who coined the term) calls it, the 'The Cousin of Ecotourism'.
Geotourism is defined by the National Geographic Centre for Sustainable Destinations as ‘tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents'.
Geotourism uses the ethics and ideas of ecotourism and sustainable tourism, and also focuses an emphasis on the local culture and history of the region.
The year 2002 was declared the International Year of Eco Tourism. The principal event to mark the occasion was ‘The Ecotourism Summit’, held in Quebec, Canada, and was organized by the World Tourism Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme, and hosted by Tourisme Québec and the Canadian Tourism Commission. These four organisations were the partners responsible for the summit.
The purpose was to ‘bring together governments, international agencies, NGOs, tourism enterprises, representatives of local and indigenous communities, academic institutions and individuals with an interest in ecotourism, and enable them to learn from each other and identify some agreed principles and priorities for the future development and management of ecotourism’.
 Reference and Useful Websites
- HOW GREEN ARE YOUR TRAVELS?
- World Travel and Tourism Council
- PLANETA FORUM
- Best Practice
- Green Globe
- The International Ecotourism Society (TIES)
- Traveler's Code for Traveling Responsibly
- Sustainable Tourism
- United Nations Environment Programme
- Links to Ecotourism Web SitesNational Geographic
- Eco Tourism
- Tourism Concern